Posted September 18, 2013
“Stay here and watch with me” (Matt. 26:38)
Recent medical research has shown, statistically, that post-operative hospital patients who experience frequent or prolonged visits from concerned family members or friends (even in compassionate silence) will recuperate far more rapidly than patients with few or no visitors during their convalescence. This remarkable observation would almost seem to authenticate the aphorism, “Suffering is hurtful; suffering alone is anguish.”
Jesus, in his Gethsemane anguish, “sorrowing to the point of death” (Matt. 26:38), sought the consoling presence of his slumberous apostles in the most epochal moment in salvation history, but instead had to endure his anguish in solitude, except for a fleeting visit from a heaven-sent angel of consolation. His plaintive question to his closest friends reflected his human need and divine yearning for companionship: “Could you not watch one hour with me?” He pleaded for his apostles’ supportive presence, but received in turn only the betrayal by Judas, a triple denial by Peter, and abandonment at Calvary by all of them, except John. The wounded Heart of Jesus still yearns for our loving presence—even a wordless presence, in a silent but sublime contemplative love.
Theologians enumerate nine forms of divine presence by which God relates to us, his human creatures; and in all of them he seeks from us a correlative loving presence, whether as a branch in the vine—“Remain in me and I will remain in you” (John 15:4)—or as a Holy Communion recipient, who “remains in me and I in him” (6:56). This is not a one-sided presence—a mere “union,” like a parent holding a sleeping newborn baby—but rather a reciprocal “communion,” like a parent and child in a mutual warm and loving embrace.
Our “mutual presence” with Jesus in the Holy Eucharist in its primary form is experienced liturgically in Mass after the consecration, and, even more intimately, sacramentally in a devout Communion. Communion within the Mass is, as Pope Pius XII said, “the diamond in its setting, a precious golden ring.”
But the Holy Eucharist, by God’s beneficence, also provides occasions for a grace-laden “mutual presence” even in its various secondary forms, such as Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, Eucharistic processions, 40-Hour Devotions, home-delivered Communion for the housebound or the institutionally confined, Holy Viaticum for the dying, Eucharistic Congresses, Exposition in a Perpetual Adoration Program, brief visits to Jesus (tabernacled or monstrance-exposed), and finally, the custom of a “Holy Hour” of Eucharistic adoration, based on the “one-hour-with-me” plaint of Jesus (Mark 14:37).
Perhaps that plea is to atone for the religious negligence of the countless throngs of almost churchless “nominal Catholics” who hardly ever seek to be present to him or to encourage his presence with them. The oft-quoted facetious quip states that nominal Catholics come to church mainly to be baptized, married and buried—“hatched, matched and dispatched”.
The secondary form of Eucharistic devotion is, in at least one of its expressions, is happily available to us, more than we might realize. It’s the grace-fostering custom of “making a visit to the Blessed Sacrament.” Jesus’ loving Eucharistic presence is probably not too distant from you at this very moment—possibly within easy walking distance—in the tabernacle of a neighboring Catholic church or chapel. If a special visit is not feasible for you, why not spend a few moments before and/or after Sunday Mass or along with your (hopefully) regular confession, or as a stop-off en route to or from work, or as a brief detour on your grocery shopping trek? Jesus would be delighted, as only God can be delighted with even a momentary visit by you—or, better, with a private “holy hour” of prayerful silence—to feed his love-hungry Heart.
In a relaxed Eucharistic tête-à-tête, you will feel free to convey your love, and also your needs, to your very best Friend, who listens with loving compassion. In response to the heart-warmed moments of your fleeting presence, his divine thrill of love will echo through the reaches of heaven itself, reverberating there among the delighted angels and saints. Plan your next visit now—and plan to make your visits not sporadic but frequent. You will be glorifying God enormously, and enriching your soul eternally. Be sure of that!
John H. Hampsch, cmf